What is the standard to receive a line-of-duty disability pension?
Line-of-Duty Disability benefits are payable to First Responders who become disabled to an illness/injury that occurs as a result of the employee’s performance of the duties required by their employer. You are covered for in-line-of-duty disability retirement from your first day of employment.
Previously, the applicable standard to receive a line-of-duty pension depended upon the retirement system in which the First Responder was a member. The Florida Retirement System (FRS) or the Municipality System. The Florida Retirement System had a “higher” standard of disability than the Municipal System, and FRS, required a First Responder to demonstrate that he/she was unable to engage in any gainful employment of any type. This higher standard often resulted in an unfair finding of “no disability” where the FRS member could not do his/her prior job but was able to engage in some other type of employment. However, under current provisions, whether you work in the FRS or the Municipality System, the standard to receive line-of-duty pension is the same. To establish entitlement to a line-of-duty disability under either pension system, a first responder must demonstrate:
- Total Disability
- Permanent Disability
- Disability arose from the performance of job duties
- No exclusionary/disqualifying factors or events
Total Disability- A line-of-duty pension applicant must establish total disability. The specific language for this requirement within a pension plan can differ slightly from one plan to another. FRS and most municipal pension plans use the language “useful and efficient service,” others may use the wording “regular and continuous,” etc. Regardless of the specific wording, the standard for total disability under all plans is substantially the same: The first responder must be unable, by reason of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, to perform their job as police officer/firefighter. While the member may be able to do other types of work, the member must be totally unable to perform work as a police officer/firefighter. Medical records and medical opinions from qualified physicians are required to establish total disability
Permanent Disability – A line-of-duty pension applicant must also establish a permanent disability. Permanent disability requires supporting medical records and opinions from physicians to successfully establish. The gold standard for permanency is when a physician opines that the applicant has reached appoint of Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI). According to Florida law, MMI is the “date after which further recovery from, or lasting improvement to, an injury or disease can no longer be reasonably anticipated, based upon reasonable medical probability.” When your doctor declares you have attained MMI, it means that you have exhausted the invasive or curative medical options available – all procedures, treatments and, medications – to improve the current medical condition that was caused by your work injury. It is important to obtain detailed and specific opinions and records from qualified physicians to submit to FRS or the municipal pension board to ensure that the permanency requirement is satisfied. This is particularly important for applicants suffering from a mental impairment such as PTSD.
Disability is caused by Work – An Applicant for a line-of-duty pension must also demonstrate that the disability condition/injury arose from the performance of his/her job duties. An acceptance of work-relatedness by workers’ compensation does not guarantee o finding of work-relatedness by the pension board. The pension board is an independent legal entity from the employing agency and their workers’ compensation carrier/servicing agent, and the pension board is not bound by workers’ compensation’s acceptance of compensability. An applicant must still present sufficient documentary and medical evidence to FRS or the munici8pal pension board to establish the nexus between his/her work as a first responder and the disabling injury/condition.
Exclusionary/disqualifying factors – some pension plans have specific exclusionary factors that the board must review and rule upon the absence of same before granting a line-of-duty pension. An applicant must be sure that no such exclusionary factors apply and/or that there is sufficient medical opinions and/or factual documentation submitted to the pension board to neutralize this factor.
Questions About In-Line-Of-Duty Disability Pensions for First Responders in Florida?
At Bichler & Longo we focus on helping first responders who have been injured in the line of duty. If you have questions about your eligibility for a Line-Of-Duty pension under either municipal plans or FRS, we are happy to assist you. Contact us today to schedule a free evaluation of your case. Visit the Bichler & Longo YouTube channel for more informative videos.
Disclaimer: The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice from the individual author or the law firm, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.
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